The other day, while browsing Xbox LIVE, I remembered an older article I wrote about the "Teresa ban." Incidents like hers will flare up every now and then, get the community going on their respective soapboxes, but when all the chatter dies down, the majority of us will push them into the back of our minds. We keep gaming.
Homosexuality is still a major issue in the video game community, to the point where companies really scratch their heads and run around blind, formulating policies they think might work on paper until another Teresa or Gaywood comes along. What can they really do? If this group isn't angry with them, another one is.
In all honesty, social change is probably the only way to guarantee acceptance on the gaming front, but we all know that takes a whole lot of time and tireless efforts by the masses.
So how about going about this another way? Because our societal standards are so greatly influenced by the media we ingest day in and day out, perhaps we can apply the same idea to video games. I'm talking about exposure, of course.
The video game community, while expansive, is still very much exclusive to a specific stereotype. Consider how an "outlier" is often portrayed in popular games. Strong female supporting characters are second fiddle to a male lead; female leads who show exceptional strength or dominance are turned into sex objects to make them less threatening or so the player can perhaps relate in some way. Focus on her tits / ass and not her brawn or faux-phallus. It would be unfortunate if homosexuality fell into this same rut, should we start getting more openly gay / lesbian characters in major titles. We already see certain signs in reoccuring archetypes like the exceptionally feminine (and often vain) man whose existance is treated more like a joke -- coughZhangHecough.
And exposure doesn't always breed acceptance. Boy love is a popular theme in Japanese pop media (anime, manga, dramas) but there's still no real acknowledgement of gays and gay rights in Japanese and other Asian societies. In such a case, boy love is just a commodity to be enjoyed at a distance, and that's another hole we don't want to fall into.
My suggestion would be to address homosexuals in games as you'd handle any other "normal" character. Look at comic books, which I find synonymous with video games as far as hobbies go (nerd stereotyping, maybe). Okay, so openly gay characters are fairly new to the Marvel / DC scene, but we're seeing a real influx of gay and lesbian stars, and writers are treating them as they would any straight hero. Northstar is just as built as that hairy chick magnet, Wolverine, right? Is Batwoman any less feminine because she's a lesbian? And DC does love lesbian cops. The most important thing to note is that these characters are being taken seriously, and homosexuality is handled maturely by the comic writers and artists. It's not just something you giggle at on the school playground anymore.
Say the gaming industry takes a hint and does the same with gay video game characters. We're already making some progress with open world titles like Fable II and Jade Empire, where the player drives the story with their own decisions, specifically romantic ones. Gay relationships were even hinted at for the upcoming fantasy RPG Dragon Age: Origins, hooray for BioWare. But maybe we can shift this in another direction by leaving the realm of open worlds. What the Hell am I getting at?
Remember when we found out for the first time that Samus is a woman? She took off her helmet and stunned everyone. That badass in the orange suit has two X-chromosomes, holy crap! Granted she quickly became a sex object, as most characters with a vagina wind up being, even getting an official Zero Suit costume in Super Smash Bros. Gee, thanks for that, Nintendo. I don't actually see that happening to a guy, though, so consider the same twist for a new game.
Create a very typical action shooter (or any popular genre) that will no doubt sell loads, starring a likable hero we're used to seeing in these sorts of games. But instead of ogling scantily clad women or forever brooding over some lost lady friend, we learn over time that this character is in fact gay. Don't make it big reveal like Samus' gender because that would just be patronizing. Instead, handle this guy like any other action hero, with all the same tribulations we might expect from a space marine or wise-cracking swordsman. In other words, don't make a big deal out of it -- just put it out there for gamers to absorb.
If devs and their publishers (or publishers and their dev studios) are worried about alienating their markets and would prefer not to shove social issues in our faces, then keep up with this open world free lovin' thing. Leave the decisions to us, the gamers, but at the very least give us that option! I'm still looking to BioWare, and I know their loyal followers are just as critical. After what they did with Jade Empire, no one can unsee the potential. In fact, the BioWare community forums are chock full of people wondering why Mass Effect allowed lesbian action but pushed out gay love. Well, honestly, I had some ideas, but then we'd be here all day discussing feminity and the male gaze (back to the "threat" paragraph above).
Now what about you, as individuals? Would playing as a gay protagonist influence your feelings about that character? Would Master Chief be any less of a badass if he were into dudes? Oh Hell, I'm sure there were plenty of gay or lesbian in the Spartan ranks.